He didn’t even realize he’d been exposed — and then the paramedic started to overdose, authorities say.
Responding to an emergency call in Fairborn, Ohio on Thursday night around 7 p.m., a handful of paramedics treated a 49-year-old woman for a suspected opioid overdose, WKEF reports. Police and paramedics administered life support, City Manager Rob Anderson told the Dayton Daily News, and then rushed the woman to the hospital for further care.
But on the way to Soin Medical Center, the paramedic driving the vehicle started to feel funny.
“He was not feeling right. He was having issues seeing the speedometer controls,” David Reichert, division chief for the Fairborn fire department, told the newspaper. The medic in the back was able to stop the vehicle.
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It turned out that the paramedic had overdosed as well, authorities said.
“In the course of treating the patient and cleaning up the scene, one of our paramedics got a secondary exposure,” Anderson, the city manager, told the Daily News.
Across the country, rates of opioid addiction and abuse have been skyrocketing in recent years — killing more than 30,000 Americans each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data analyzed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest health insurers in the country. Blue Cross Blue Shield reports that, among those it insures, diagnoses of opioid use disorder have spiked nearly 500 percent in just the last seven years.
Luckily, the Ohio first responder survived: Another paramedic quickly treated the overdosing paramedic with Narcan, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, the Daily News reports. It took two doses for the Narcan to work, according to WKEF.
The Fairborn police department has sent samples from the scene to a crime lab to figure out what the drug was, WKEF reports.
The paramedic has been treated and is recovering. Other paramedics and police were also exposed, police told the Daily News. Their symptoms were minimal, but they had to bag their clothes and shower to decontaminate themselves, according to WKEF.
With increasingly potent drugs like fentanyl, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned local first responders in June that they should take serious precautions to avoid exposure to potentially deadly opioids. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the DEA.
“It can come into your system in any way. You can inhale it. You can ingest it. If it becomes airborne, it can be absorbed into your eye,” Roxanne Franckowski, a chemist with Cayman Chemical Co. in Michigan, told CNN. “If your hand is exposed and you touch fentanyl, it can be absorbed that way.”
Gloves, dust masks, safety glasses, paper suits, shoe covers and other equipment are recommended in some instances to guard against exposure, the DEA said in June.
Still, merely touching the drug would not trigger a near-death experience, Slate reports.
“Neither fentanyl nor even its uber-potent cousin carfentanil can cause clinically significant effects, let alone near-death experiences, from mere skin exposure,” Jeremy Samuel Faust, a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, wrote in a Slate article.
The Ohio woman who overdosed was treated at the hospital, WKEF reports, has since been released.
Employees at Soin Medical Center, the hospital where she was treated, may have been impacted by exposure to the drug as well, city officials told the Daily News.